Policymakers should sit up and address the population problem

 The Minister of State for Health, Joseph Ekumankama, became the latest person to express concerns about the implications of Nigeria’s demographic trend. Ekumankama noted at the seventh Nigeria Family Planning Conference that without effective population policies to reduce the high fertility rate, Nigeria will be saddled with a projected population of about 400 million by 2050. “It will then mean that rapid population will put substantial pressure on the country’s capacity to provide quality social services such as food, clinics, and adequate sanitation and other basic needs,” Ekumankama stated. 

Indeed, Nigeria has a lot to worry about concerning a population that continues to bulge exponentially, at a period the nation is ranked among the poorest in the world. Meanwhile, according to the latest figure by the Association for the Advancement of Family Planning (AAFP), the number of Nigerian women using modern contraceptive methods is 12 per cent while 19 per cent others lack such access for reasons ranging from lack of contraceptives to ignorance and religious beliefs. The AAFP chairman, Ejike Oji acknowledged that the low utilisation of family planning services has contributed, among other things, to a high total fertility rate of an average of six children per woman which contributes to the rapid population growth rate of 3.2 per cent, and which “impacts negatively on the country’s development and health situations.” 

At the present rate of growth, and as rightly observed by the minister, Nigeria’s population is expected to double in less than 30 years, thus becoming the third most populous country in the world after China and India. Yet, a combination of sustained negative economic growth and an uncontrolled demographic bulge has put the country in a very difficult and potentially explosive situation. And as the population continues to rise amid decaying infrastructure and social services, there are no policy measures to address the demographic danger beyond going on a borrowing binge without repayment plan. It is a simple economic fact that population growth that is not matched with commensurate development in the socio-economic sector and education for the citizenry can only breed chaos. 

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) director, Moses Tule noted not long ago that Nigeria’s population had become a liability and would remain so unless it expands its economic base by stimulating the economy and producing the needed goods and services to sustain it. Figures available paint a dire situation of millions of Nigerian youths roaming the streets looking for work but finding none. More than a dozen million children are also not in school. The situation is compounded by the prevailing economic condition in which rather than hire, many private enterprises now fire their staff in the name of rationalisation. 

The danger of such a high level of idleness among millions of young persons is already manifesting in the high level of crimes in virtually every corner of the country. Whereas the multitude of violent outbursts might have religious and ethnic colorations and undertones, it is a notorious fact that most of the people in the fields and trenches are youths who if otherwise meaningfully engaged would have been unavailable for those anti-social endeavours. Joblessness and frustrations are evidently fuelling the frequent cases of unrest across the country. 

Nigeria must thus sit up to address the growing population problem. First, we must do a credible head count, stripped of politics to stop the dependence on international agencies for “estimated” figures. Accurate head count will aid planning. Besides, a sustainable society is one with moderate population growth that enables its members to achieve a high quality of life. It is time for a policy to tame the country’s uncontrolled population growth. 

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